PETALING JAYA: Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat has told a gathering of Commonwealth lawyers that both the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and the Bar have a duty to defend the independence of the judiciary.
The top judge said while she would work to ensure the independence of the judicial branch of the government, it falls on the AGC and the Bar to come to the judiciary’s defence when judges are faced with spurious allegations.
“The duty to safeguard and strengthen the independence of the judiciary does not lie solely with the judiciary but also on the other stakeholders of the justice system, in particular the AGC and the Bar,” she said in a speech delivered at the 23rd Commonwealth Law Conference in Goa, India, earlier today.
Tengku Maimun, who became the nation’s first woman Chief Justice almost four years ago, said Malaysia saw the eclipse of its judiciary after a most devastating attack on its independence in 1988.
That followed several important decisions made by the court which were seen to have gone against the government of the day.
Tension in the relationship between the executive and the judiciary at the time eventually led to the unprecedented removal of then Lord President, Salleh Abbas, and the suspension of five Supreme Court judges.
Two of the five suspended judges were also subsequently dismissed.
“Judicial independence and public confidence in the judiciary suffered greatly after the 1988 constitutional crisis.
“Judicial prestige and independence were also eroded by several constitutional amendments which attempted to circumscribe the judicial power, to which judges acquiesced until recently,” she added.
However, in recent years, there have been further attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary through unwarranted criticism and intimidation towards judges.
“Today, innocent and honest judges who diligently perform their duties are targeted by criminals and their cohorts.
“With the advent of technology, more damage has been done through social media by people out to advance their own interests at the expense of judicial independence,” she added.
Tengku Maimun said each attack on a judge for a decision delivered by him is a “direct attack” on the independence of the judiciary.
These attacks represent attempts on the part of “those in the abode of the guilty to navigate and coerce judicial conformity with their own preconceptions,” she added.
Judges, by the nature of their work, do not respond to criticisms or engage in public debates of their decisions, Tengku Maimun said.
“Judges only speak through their judgments. This is a convention intended to preserve judicial dignity and impartiality,” she added.